Literary Essay Assignment as a Recruitment Tool?

Bloomberg’s Big Law blog reports on an intriguing hiring tactic recently deployed by the intellectual property boutique Fisch Sigler LLP of Washington, D.C.

Applicants for the position of associate at the firm were invited to submit an essay on the subject of “Whether Nobel Prize winning novelist Saul Bellow deserved his 1976 Nobel Prize for Literature,” along with the rest of their applications.

The firm’s ad for the position read in part, “We are looking for a lawyer who savors persuasive writing as the best part of the job. Is this you?”

Christopher Brown, the author of the article, reports that Fisch Sigler’s search for a “literary wordsmith” led to a number of interesting discussions during interviews, and was ultimately successful. Similarly unusual tactics are now being used to fill other positions at the boutique firm.

Brown points out that small firms with limited practices become far more vulnerable than do large firms when they hire even one person who doesn’t meet their needs. Fisch Sigler LLP has taken a creative approach that may help to reduce their particular risks when it comes to making hiring decisions.

Let me know your thoughts on this or any other issue relating to the practice of law. You can contact me either through the comments below or directly via email.


Facing and Overcoming Law Firm Business-Development Challenges

I was pleased to have been invited recently to contribute my thoughts to an article by Jody Glidden, cofounder and CEO of Introhive. Introhive provides relationship intelligence automation (RIA) support to law firms and other professionals who are using customer relationships management (CRM) platforms.

Jody asked me to talk about “the most critical business-development mistakes law firms are making today, the most important trends that are shaping the legal marketplace, and how the smartest law firms are responding.”

First I explained why it is that today, more than ever before, law firms must attend to business-development and client-retention issues: “The equation has shifted. Until recently, law firms had more power than clients. Now clients hold the power. Simply put, law firms are competing in a tougher climate.”

I then went on to talk about how this challenge can be addressed. I explained, for example, that many law firms waste time and energy by confusing “business development” with “marketing.” I also told him why business-development training in law firms should include mentoring by lawyers who have proven track records at attracting new business.

I hope you will find Jody’s article of value. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this and other issues relating to the law. You can contact me either through the comments below or directly via email.

Lessons from HBO’s Game of Thrones about Email Security

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 3.20.33 PMA recent article in The Verge describes the challenges faced by the wildly popular Game of Thrones series on HBO when it comes to protecting secrecy around the plots of future episodes. Among the steps the show has taken to address these privacy challenges is two-step verification of emails, a strategy any industry or profession that deals with secure matters on a regular basis would be wise to consider for its own purposes. Law firms, for example.

Game of Thrones‘ zealous fans have done everything they can to gain access to plot twists and turns in advance of broadcasts, from sneaking onto sets in the guise of legitimate photographers to launching camera-equipped drones to spy on film locations.

Now, along with reducing the number of people who are given any access to scripts at all, and using code words on the set, HBO has instituted a policy of communicating electronically about episodes only with cast members who have set up two-factor authentication on their email accounts.

“Two-factor authentication” or “two-step verification” is the term used to describe the requirement instituted by email providers, among others, that in addition to a passcode, users provide a second piece of information – one that only they will know – to identify themselves. Many email providers now require, for example, that users input a code number sent to their cell phone before they can log on.

If HBO is requiring two-step authentication to help protect its scripts from a public salivating for spoilers, perhaps it is time that law firms – who deal with far more life-altering security-related issues every day than plot twists – should make such email restrictions part of their standard practice, too.

I welcome your thoughts on this and other issues relating to the law. You can contact me either through the comments below or directly via email.

Gary Kasparov: “Work with – Don’t Fear – Intelligent Machines”

Gary Kasparov at TED Talks

Gary Kasparov at TED Talks

In a humorous and entertaining, but also thought-provoking, TED Talk, Gary Kasparov recounts his historic confrontation with IBM’s “Deep Blue” in 1997: the never-to-be-forgotten day when the world champion chess player was beaten at his own game by a computer.
Kasparov goes on to talk about the value of the capacities – such as passion and the ability to dream – that only humans possess. He believes that by working with machines, humans can help to create “more useful intelligence.” The problem? Too many of us are afraid of AI and the challenges it presents.

“We must face our fears if we want to get the most out of technology,” Kasparov says, “and we must conquer those fears if we want to get the best out of humanity.”

Check out this amazing video and let me know what you think.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.








Verrill Dana Wins “Service Provider of the Year Award” for Imaginative New Arctic Practice

Benjamin Ford of Verrill Dana explains how his firm supports international entrepreneurism in the Arctic

Benjamin Ford of Verrill Dana explains how his firm supports international entrepreneurism in the Arctic

Congratulations to the law firm of Verrill Dana LLP, which has received the 2017 Service Provider of the Year Award from the Maine International Trade Center.

This is a superb example of a law firm looking at future legal needs in an entrepreneurial and imaginative way. This story is not about “the idea” but rather about “the execution of the idea.”

Watch this video (less than five minutes) to get a sense of how Ben Ford and Roger Clement, with the full support of managing partner K. C. Jones, have breathed life into a strategy to serve the legal needs of entrepreneurs and companies around the world that are working in the Arctic.

As a footnote, many people are not aware of the extent to which Portland, Maine is going to become a gateway to shipping patterns made possible by the melting ice. No one likes the idea of global warming – but if it’s a reality, it’s best to understand it and embrace its possibilities.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.

AU Law Firm Credits “People Focus” for Its Success

Screen cap, John Poulsen , Managing Partner, Australian arm of Squire Patton Boggs

Screen cap: John Poulsen, Managing Partner, Australian arm of Squire Patton Boggs

The managing partner of the Australian office of US-based Squire Patton Boggs, one of the most successful law firms in the world ($US1 Billion global revenue with more than 1500 lawyers, and offices in 21 countries), attributes the firm’s prosperity and growth – even in recent years, when the market has been sluggish – to its focus on its staff.

In an article in the Australian Financial Review, John Poulsen points out that depression, anxiety and other mental-health issues are common in the legal profession. The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, an Australian charity dedicated to supporting mental-health initiatives in the legal workplace, estimates that “50% of law students, 33% of solicitors, and 20% of barristers” have experienced depression.

Poulsen, who suffered from serious depression himself before seeking treatment fifteen years ago, believes that addressing the mental health of lawyers and their staffs must be a priority for law firms. “[When] your No. 1 focus is people, then clients, then systems and processes [… ],” he says, “finance looks after itself in a sustainable way.”

It seems obvious that a lawyer who is stressed, anxious and depressed is going to be less productive than one who is free from the symptoms of such conditions – not to mention the self-treatment strategies that often accompany them, such as alcohol and drug abuse. And Poulsen has the numbers to support his emphasis on fostering mental health in the legal workplace: a Financial Review survey recently placed the Squire Patton Boggs Australian office “among the fastest-growing firms in an otherwise relatively stagnant legal services market.”

Squire Patton Boggs is one of more than 150 signatories to a set of guidelines developed by the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, which addresses such issues as organizational culture and acknowledgment of staff efforts. Poulsen’s office works to facilitate a climate that includes “collaboration, professionalism, excellence and diversity.”

“None of it is rocket science,” Poulsen tells the Financial Review. “It’s just about treating people as you want to be treated yourself.”

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.

“Managers” and “Makers” and the Use of Time

Planning Time ConceptAuthor, computer scientist and venture capitalist Paul Graham makes an interesting distinction between “managers” and “makers” when it comes to time management – particularly when it comes to scheduling meetings.

In an essay entitled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule,” Graham – who in 2005 co-founded Y Combinator, a then-new type of startup incubator that has since funded over a thousand startups including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, and Reddit – points out that managers are used to needing to refocus their attention every hour or so. For them, to schedule a meeting at 3 p.m. is natural and routine. Creators, on the other hand, are likely to find that even one meeting, at 10 or 11 a.m., or 2 or 3 p.m., simply breaks up their days into unmanageable pieces: they are unable to sink into a task and give it full attention in the small chunks of time left over before and after such meetings. Creative work requires long stretches of uninterrupted time, and even half a day of unbroken concentration is often not enough.

This distinction is of interest to those who are working with creative entrepreneurs, such as writers, graphic artists, or programmers: these individuals may prefer to schedule all of their meetings for one day a week and leave the other days open, or to meet very early in the morning so that the rest of the day is available for their creative work.

However, the distinction is also of interest to those of us who tend to move back and forth between one work mode and another.  For lawyers, days full of meetings and appointments are often expected and routine. However, we also require uninterrupted time for writing, researching and thinking. A meeting at 2 p.m. can sometimes not only interrupt the afternoon, it can also throw off the whole day.

Thinking of Paul Graham’s distinction between types of work – manager’s or maker’s? – and scheduling meetings so they don’t conflict with projects that require prolonged focus may help us manage all of our work more effectively.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

What Lawyers Can Learn about Customer Service from Nordstrom

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 3.13.56 PMWhen James A. (Jim) Cranston heard enthusiastic praise for Nordstrom’s personal shopping service, he decided to find out more about it. He quickly realized that the store’s individual approach to clients was as applicable to legal practices as it was to luxury chain stores. Cranston has now published his observations in an article entitled “What a Nordstrom Personal Shopper Can Teach Us About Client Service” (LawVision, May 24, 2017).

Here are just four of eight qualities that Cranston identifies as characteristic of Nordstrom’s “personal stylists” (NPSs), and he invites lawyers to consider them in their practices as well:

  • “Responsiveness:  Nordstrom has a 24-hour response policy to all NPS inquiries (via a phone call and personal email).
  • Convenient Communication:  Nordstrom facilitates the shopping experience through multiple communication venues, including text messaging.
  • Understands the Client:  The NPS will ask many questions regarding lifestyle, career, travel habits, hobbies as well as personal attributes like age, height, weight, hair, eye and skin colors.
  • Proactive:  Based on the client’s preferences, the NPS will identify and select items which may be of interest and reach out consistently with multiple options (unsolicited).”

– James A. Cranston

While (obviously) law practices and clothing stores have more differences than similarities, in both cases at least one critical component of how they conduct business has a major impact on their ongoing relevance and prosperity: client satisfaction. I recommend you check out Cranston’s article and consider how you can apply his list of attributes to your own work.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.



A Fizzy New Niche for Law Practice?

Water bottlesA recent article in USA Today suggests that, in the same way that craft beers have transformed the face of beer production and sales in recent years, the manufacturing and retail landscape for soft drinks may be changing.

Zlati Meyer writes, “[It  is] unique formulations that are at the heart of the growing segment of ‘craft soda,’ fizzy concoctions that are starting to make an impact in the $52.5 billion U.S. soft drink market.”

The author goes on to point out that “artisanal” or “small batch” soda producers are positioning themselves to move into the market gap that has been created by consumer concerns about the health risks of traditional soda pop.

Craft beer production opened up significant and profitable new areas of legal practice. Is the same thing likely to happen in the “craft soda” market? Are there other, parallel developments in the marketplace that lawyers should be watching?

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Helping Small Firms Grow and Become More Successful

Russell Ford of Ford-Murray Law

Russell C. Ford of Ford-Murray Law

Immigration lawyer Russell C. Ford contacted me a few months ago with very positive feedback on my book, which he said he had read early in his career. He said, “The Successful Lawyer was transformative to me as a person, lawyer, and entrepreneur.” I asked him to tell me a bit about the practice he and his partner had built together, which led to my inviting him to write an article for my blog post. This week’s post is the article he wrote. Thank you, Russell!  – Gerry Riskin

Let us begin this article by defining some key terms that are essential to the discussion. These terms are “small firm,” “growth,” and “success.”

  • In this context, “small firm” does not imply revenues, clients or vision; rather, a “small firm” is simply a designation to let the outside world know that your firm employs ten or fewer attorneys.
  • The “growth” of a small firm does not mean increasing head count, but rather increasing the client base and overall revenues/profits.
  • “Success” can mean many different things to many different people, but essentially it means living the lifestyle that you have chosen for yourself in a manner that is in line with your being, your passion, and your vision. If you seek a firm that provides you with a three-day workweek, a $500,000 salary, and clients that support your vision and mission, when you have achieved those conditions, you are a “success.” On the other hand, if you as an individual can be authentic to yourself at $50,000 per year, and your firm is creating that “salary” for you while providing you with the work-life balance you seek, then you have achieved “success.” The key is being honest with yourself in terms of what is truly going to provide you comfort in life: this is what will be your success.

Before we opened the doors to the small firm of which we are co-owners, my partner and I first sat down and became clear as to what our vision of “success” would be. We needed a goal on which to focus our efforts, and to ensure that our decisions were guided by “fact” and not some “fictional” idea of what success might mean to others or the outside world.

After we became crystal clear as to what our vision for this firm would be, we set out to grow the firm in order to meet that vision. Our path was shown to us through the guidance of others – both actual coaching and through reading. A primary source for helping set this path was The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen.

The Strategy

In today’s world, we live in an instant gratification, quick ascension, hit-the-lottery society. Everyone is searching for the “white whale client” that will take their firm from $100,000 in revenue to $1,000,000 in revenue overnight – that one client or case that will “change their life.” They become highly discouraged when the white whale never arrives.

In this environment, lawyers seem to think that if they “do” business development for a month, work should just flow through their doors. When that doesn’t happen, they stop doing the business-development activities because “they are not working.” However, growth does not occur with starts and stops. Rather, it requires small, consistent actions conducted every day and compounded over time to create a consistent flow of clients and revenue. In short, the white whale only comes if you fish every day, in a consistent, but flexible way, that adapts when needed and adjusts when necessary.

If you fish the same way every day and expect different results, then you are fooling yourself. Instead, you need to try a certain spot, try a certain bait, try a certain time of day and then evaluate and adjust. Next day, try a new spot. Try a new bait. Try a new time of day. Evaluate again. Adjust again. The real key is that you are fishing every day. And every time out, you try something just a little bit different (or better —  the slight edge) to achieve new results. The more you fish, the more success you attract. Plus, the more time you allow your fishing to happen, the more your success is compounded over time. Soon, your 5-lb bass is a 300-lb tuna. Soon, your 300-lb tuna is a unfathomably huge white whale.

Be Proactive

So how does the small firm practitioner “fish”? The list includes the most mundane of tasks – picking up the phone and calling on a potential client, calling on a potential referral source, and calling on an existing client just to check in and see how things are going in their business, life, etc. A wise coach once referred to this as the “smile and dial” method of marketing. Pick up the phone or, as Olsen says, “do the thing and you shall have the power.”

The list also includes the “traditional” components of marketing. Research and write articles in your area of expertise. Find speaking engagements and submit proposals to become a conference speaker. Establish yourself as an expert in your field. Host webinars and seminars – and find sponsors for these events who may offer peripheral services to your clients. For example, if you are a criminal attorney, a bail bond agent might sponsor the conference to promote their own business and provide some financial support/press to the event. Create a presence in the speaking and writing world that gets you noticed by potential clients and referral sources.

Finally, the list includes the “new” online forms of marketing. Establish a presence on LinkedIn, Avvo, Facebook, and other similar sites for yourself and your firm. Get your brand noticed. Create a blog and flood it with content – write on that blog at least four times per month. Provide content and resources. In the online world, content is king. Ensure that your brand is producing that content and is being “noticed” in searches for your field. Use your content to push your PR – promote yourself as an expert in your field who can be interviewed by newspapers, websites, podcasts, and television/radio stations. This will create independent third-party content that you can then use and repurpose in your social media to further establish your firm and yourself as an expert in the industry – a trusted resource. People hire people they know and trust. The more presence you establish, the more people begin to “know” you and to “trust” you. Don’t be shy – perform consistent actions every day in the online world to create content, provide resources, and establish your brand.

The key to “overnight” success and growth is grinding every day. Establish a program of small, consistent, flexible actions compounded over time and, suddenly, your firm will be producing the revenue stream you set as your goal when you first opened your doors.